Album Review: Da’at’s ‘The Hissing House’

Written by Mark Gurarie

With its opening peal of driving bass, trembling chorus-pedaled guitar line, reverb-drenched vocals, swirling synths, and echoey death-disco drums, you might think you’ve figured out what Calgary band, Da’at, is up to on their debut album, The Hissing House. You might even, within the first two minutes, have a firm idea of where in your record collection you might sort the album: the section anchored by Suicide and Bauhaus et al., nestled in among a litany of doomy, dark, moody, synth-inflected darkwave contemporaries like Belorussia’s Molchat Doma or New York’s pop. 1280.

It’s good, infectious company, but something happens about mid-way through the opening track, cryptically titled “T.I.E.L.”: a sax enters the scene. And as the bass starts walking and the drums trip over themselves, you realize you’re in a different film: Lynchian and shot in grainy black and white to evoke desire only because death is inevitable (how glorious but also how French). The original groove returns, and we’re back in the club on goth night. But things can no longer be the same. As you walk through the rooms of The Hissing House, you find only more layers peeling back. More shadows. More dust bunnies under the radiator. More creaks are coming from the floorboards. It fits that the second verse, echoey and pleading, begins: “Yet another dark night for the soul / I look for you even again / As the sky comes crashing down.” 

Da’at is a new band, a quartet, but my sleuthing could not reveal who does what. It’s perhaps better so, leaving more to the imagination and making disembodied the singing, which oscillates on an axis of wailing, operatic bluster, and a sort of haunted whisper. The latter voice beckons us to turn the rusty handle on the crumbling door on “L’âge de l’ego.” “Misery take hold of me / Stranger to goodwill / Hold fast for the devil seeks his fill,” we hear over minimalist, percussive strings a la Steve Reich, with only a synth softening the edges. As before, Da’at isn’t satisfied; the song faux fades into moans and marching footsteps before recomposing itself as a throbbing and noisy groove: collapsing into a ticking clock. To see something like this live, I imagine, would be to bathe in such heaviness. As things shift, a sense of decay and horror drapes over all of it: a bit of necromancy in the house built by Bauhaus. 

The Hissing House clocks in at just over 27 minutes long, but the slippage between genres and the way that the seven songs on it can wear multiple outfits make it seem much longer: a damn fine thing! In less capable hands, the weight of the disparate influences and the apparent musical talent on display might have unbalanced the structure. The stylistic mix could run the risk of seemingly searching—rather than finding—a sound or sonic territory. But not so here. Da’at is comfortable within its constellation: moving from darkwave and industrial to noise, from minimalism to surf rock to John Zorn to sweeping soundscapes that could find homes on Nick Cave records without losing their essence. Spare and melancholic poetry crashes into grand, almost symphonic flourishes; hairspray and fishnets in the strobe lights of the dance floor become solitary walks through the cemetery. 1978 becomes 1986 becomes 1994 becomes 2022. There is something rare and compelling about a band that successfully contains these multitudes: that embodies them without being cloying.

With The Hissing House, Da’at haunts us in the way of the most successful gothic/industrial/post-punk type albums: evoking loneliness while reminding us that we are not alone. No, we are all stuck here on the hellish earth with “Infero,” the subject of the song of the same name. The narrator wanders and wonders how “to pluck the stars from the night” with “God’s loneliest child” in the purgatory of the everyday, perhaps like many of us, seeking something meaningful—dare I add divine?—while acknowledging the futility of that enterprise. Wherever the band wanders next—whatever kind of house this Canadian quartet builds down the line—it will be worth following.

Score: 8 Pollenate Me!

Mark Gurarie is a poet, writer, and musician from Northampton, Massachusetts. He has a solo project called MG & the TV and plays guitar and sings in the post-punk band Teen Driver.

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